Some Mistakes Endear Us

A few days ago, my stepson texted me to let me know he had made a serious and potentially dangerous mistake on the job. He had dropped a piece of metal strut through a knockout into a live 480/277-volt electrical panel. Fortunately, the piece blew itself off the lug and welded onto the metal can housing the panel, and no one was harmed, nor was any equipment damaged. A little time and peace of mind was lost, and the piece of metal ruined—but that is peanuts compared to what could have happened. (He had previously had cardboard on top, but had moved it for some reason and neglected to put it back.) At first he was hesitant to share with the foreman (who was away at the time) and cleaned it up.

But because he has seen me make serious and sometimes costly mistakes (one that cost our company insurance $16K when the entire gross on the job was only $5K; another where I drilled into a water line and damaged the customer’s drawings which had to be presented the next day, causing him to spend the night re-configuring, and costing us over $1K for his time), he was willing to tell me. (And after sharing the first comment below via text and speaking with him shortly thereafter, he did go on to tell the foreman, who in turn told me some of the mistakes he had made.)

Almost immediately, I had a thought: Sometimes our mistakes make us memorable to those who care about us, give them compassion, free them to share their own mistakes, and ultimately create positive memories as they bond us together. I made a very costly mistake a few years back based on bad judgment of someone’s character, and we are still re-couping. And just yesterday, our bookkeeping department found out (after agonizing calculations) that we had overcharged a customer about 3% on a huge job, which we are crediting back on the next invoice, along with an honest explanation of why.

Ultimately, we will be known by at least two things: our successes, especially in relationships; and our mistakes. But sometimes what appears to be a mistake can be a blessing in disguise—consider, e.g., “Seward’s Folly,” the purchase of territory which is now Alaska, surely a blessing to the USA in many ways. King David’s mistake of adultery with Bathsheba (and murder of her husband Uriah) gave us Solomon, who comparatively for his day was probably wealthier than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet combined, and whose wisdom is beyond legendary; the Lord even gave Solomon a special nickname, Jedediah (“beloved by Yah”), and David’s subsequent humility was another blessing, resulting in many of the Psalms being written (notably Psalm 51).

And the mistakes of others can allow us to forgive, which is a blessing of release of bitterness: As someone has wisely said, “Holding onto unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Bitterness undealt-with will eat away at us like battery acid, and can ultimately kill us.

It can be argued that not all mistakes are blessings, and I think that may be true on a microcosmic scale. But from an eternal perspective, they must somehow all be blessings, since “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NAS) And the Old Testament patriarch Joseph was able to tell his brothers his matured perspective on their perfidy in selling him into enslavement in Egypt, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20 NAS) Even the devil serves God’s purposes, albeit unwillingly and unintentionally—as in the case of Job’s trials and both Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness and his betrayal by Judas, to bring about salvation through the crucifixion—surely one of the greatest travesties in history.

The greatest determiner on the microcosmic scale is whether we can somehow advance toward the macrocosmic—whether intentionally or not, over time, and in light of eternity. How we view mistakes determines whether they are good or bad, beneficial or harmful, in the short term.

So how are you viewing your mistakes? How about those of others?

I told the bookkeeper, “It’s NOT a mistake. It’s a chance to operate ethically and do what is right. Ultimately, it will bring in MORE business, not less.” And I truly believe that.

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